Deadly Sins

By Mary Gordon, John Updike, William Trevor, A.S. Byatt, Joyce Carol Oates, Thomas Pynchon, Gore Vidal

56 ratings - 3.79* vote

Essays by Thomas Pynchon, Mary Gordon, John Updike, Gore Vidal, Richard Howard, A.S. Byatt, and Joyce Carol Oates discuss the seven deadly sins, plus one, despair, the only unforgiveable sin.

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Book details

Paperback, 125 pages
February 1st 1996 by Quill

(first published September 20th 1994)

Original Title
Deadly Sins
0688146163 (ISBN13: 9780688146160)
Edition Language

Community Reviews


I seem to have read a lot of books by Mary Gordon over the years. I'm not sure why this is the case because, on balance, I don't care for her writing all that much. (I want to take her and shake her and tell her to get over all that idiotic Catholic guilt and related rubbish already, and get on with her life. Similarly, does any writer really need to grind out a memoir about her father and a separate one about her mother - just get over it and move on already, lady - you're obviously smart - time to live your own freaking life!)

This collection has the virtue of being just edited by her. It's a pretty fun collection, as a result.

The only other writer who provokes in me the same desire to shake her and yell "Snap out of it, already!" is the terminally wan Anita Brookner, with her infinite collection of pale, miserable, self-absorbed heroines who severely need to get a grip and get on with life. Just sayin'.

OK: Mary Gordon, she does write well. I have to give her that. But exasperatingly.


A collection of essays by eight mid-late 20th century writers which were originally published in The New York Times Book Review in the early 1990's, each essay discusses one of the traditional seven deadly sins, plus a concluding essay by Joyce Carol Oates on the sin of despair, to cap it off. Traditionally a subject of moral theology, this collection is a secular treatment of each of the sins. Some of the writers illustrate their assigned sin with literary illustrations drawn from the likes of Balzac, Charles Dickens, Emily Dickenson, Dostoyevsky, and others.


I read an excerpt of Updike's essay on Lust and borrowed the whole book from the library. Each essay is interesting and thought-provoking, though I liked the ones on Anger and Gluttony best. I'm not big on short stories or essays, so this was a challenge for a person who prefers long-form. However, the writing is excellent, if not the theology, and brings fresh perspective to the concepts of sin and virtue.


Mary Gordon is one of my favored authors and is in good company with the authors represented in this book of writings on the deadly sins. I've also become a bit obssessed with reading on the topic of the deadly sins and the major virtues.


What more could a reader want than the finest contemporary authors - Oates, Gore, Updike, etc. - writing on the 7 deadly sins and brought together and edited by Mary Gordon...? This is a wonderfully witty and thoughtful collection of essays to be savored...or is that gluttony?


The essay on gluttony was great.

Samantha Tanner

Several of the essays make comparisons to the Bible (naturally). One is a poem (I skipped it). One is a story about a obese man who ends up in poverty and dies. The best one is the one on Despair. The other two I liked were Lust and Sloth. Those 3 hit some really relevant points considering it was published back in 1993 I think. The rest were worth skipping, in my opinion. It's no wonder I haven't read anything else by these famous writers, because their writing style is too stuffy and fluffy for me. I give it 1.5 stars.

Chibyke shade

Several of the essays make comparisons to the Bible (naturally).